The high failure rate of political marriages is well documented. Some are drawn out and painful like Jaramogi and Jomo’s was, ending in a bitter epic split. Others, like Uhuru and Ruto’s political matrimony endures permanent rumours and speculation about ‘trouble in paradise.’ On the other hand, Raila and Kibaki’s union was an obviously unfulfilled arranged political marriage. Raila was always complaining and airing their dirty laundry in public. And although they stayed the course, both looked permanently unhappy.
But not all political partners are as long suffering as the senior Odinga, Mzee Moi and other stoic presidents-in-waiting. Some political marriages are short-lived and dramatic like the Nairobi Governorship ‘couple’- Mike Sonko and Polycarp Igathe. The thing about political partnership, unlike most conventional ones, is that they are purely marriages of convenience; no one is in love. They are products of unblinking realities and interests. And that is why the making of these unions should be pragmatic.
Although they are as different as chalk and cheese, Sonko and Igathe were not necessarily a mismatched couple. The problem is that in coming together, they did not follow some simple rules of political courtship. It is all about ‘understanding.’
Rule number one: Each party must have a clear understanding of value proposition- both theirs and their partners. When Sonko and Igathe announced their partnership and published their colourful ‘engagement photos’ last year, it was clear that they were juxtaposing two worlds for the benefit of the voters- that one would be ‘the politician’ and the other ‘the manager.’ This flawed understanding of roles came back to bite them when the reality of office hit.
Rule number two: A hierarchical understanding must be established- who is the boss? As we Africans say, the neck cannot jump the head, but without the neck the head cannot move. If the boss feels inadequate he will over-exert, if the lesser partner appears to try to ‘outshine the master,’ he will be forced to write a letter saying he is ‘resigning’ and not ‘quitting.’ In the end, the breakdown at City Hall occurred when it became impossible to put street smarts, corporate experience, brawn and brain into a coherent pecking order.
Rule number three: An arranged political marriage is good, but a personal mutual political agreement is better. The Sonko Igathe union was obviously a forced alliance. It was the case of a ‘corporate expert’ being roped in to balance a ‘rich chokora.’ The arrangement was for purposes of the election which was in truth just the ‘wedding,’ and not for the actual work, or the ‘marriage.’ An example of a successful but unlikely duo that tied the political knot is from New York City in the 1920’s. In many ways, during that time, New York was similar to Nairobi. It was infamously corrupt having been captured by the Tammany Hall cartel that decided how jobs and contracts were dished out. In the midst of all this, two personalities- as different as night and day, came together and forever changed the city’s legacy and prospects.
The first was Governor Al Smith, the four-time New York Governor during the 20’s. Smith was in many ways like Sonko; a charismatic politician, a man in a hurry and rough around the edges. He was a patron and beneficiary of the Tammany Hall cartel and as such, schooled in the way of practical politics. But Smith, like Sonko, was also a man who felt he had a lot to prove. And so, he set about to reform New York politics. Upon assuming office in 1919, he tapped the talent of a jew called Robert Moses to help him implement his vision.
Robert Moses, also known as ‘the master builder’ of New York grew up in a leafy suburb. His childhood friends were well to do people like the Lehman brothers and he attended Ivy League universities. He was an intellectual, a principled and uncompromising reformer from the upper class of society, an idealist who wanted to transform the civil service of New York. From this unlikely symbiosis between the rough governor Smith and the pragmatic administrator Robert Moses, the City of New York embarked on an upward trajectory; becoming one of the worlds major cities.
This Sonko/ Igathe equation had the potential to work and lead Nairobi in the New York path. The thing is, it did not go wrong, it started wrong.
The writer is a PhD candidate in Political Economy at SMC University and a research fellow at Fort Hall School of Government. [email protected]